Koda Glover has never lacked for confidence. Give him the ball - preferably in the ninth inning, with the game on the line - and the right-hander will call on his reserve of firepower to crank the radar gun toward triple digits.
But the version of Glover that has assumed ninth-inning duties for the Nationals with three other closers - lefty Sean Doolittle (stress reaction in left foot) and right-handers Kelvin Herrera (right shoulder) and Ryan Madson (lumbar nerve irritation) on the disabled list - is a far cry from the brash, in-your-face version that willed himself into the closer’s role last season as a 24-year-old.
Spending significant time on the shelf with back and shoulder injuries (not to mention the hip problem that short-circuited his rookie campaign in 2016) has not diminished Glover’s enthusiasm, but working diligently on the comeback trail has taught him a thing or two about himself.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself, mainly that I’m mortal. ... When you’re young and stuff, you don’t think you’re ever going to get hurt and that you’re going to play for a hundred years,” Glover said. “Once reality smacks you in the mouth, you understand that’s not the case. You actually have to do the little things to keep yourself on the field.”
Glover has had the better part of a full major league season to contemplate his professional life, most of the introspection occurring in relative obscurity at the Nationals’ spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla. That’s where pitchers go to rehab injuries, although Glover isn’t sure most casual fans realize what rehabilitation means to a player champing at the bit to get back on the field.
“I would explain it as, it’s one thing when you get a full spring training, which is six, seven weeks, to prepare while you’re healthy,” he said. “It’s another thing to get all that time when you’re not healthy and you’re not preparing, and then you go into midseason and you’re having to basically do catch-up the entire time, and you’ve just got back to being healthy. It’s a long road. But it’s one of them things, where the more reps you get, the better you’re going to be.”
And Glover has had reps, lots of them. Last June, he claimed he bent down in the shower to pick something up and felt something grab in his back. Not wanting to risk losing his closer’s role, he remained silent, pitched and hurt both himself and the Nats, blowing a save opportunity. Later, he admitted he’d been pitching through shoulder pain for a while and he was sent off to West Palm Beach to get healthy.
That took a lot longer than expected. When spring training rolled around, Glover reported for duty, but didn’t throw a pitch - not in warmups, not on the back fields, not in Grapefruit League games. It took months for him to successfully rehab the shoulder problem. When you’re a bull-strong Oklahoman, taking baby steps must seem like the worst possible punishment.
“That’s where preparation and maintenance ... is going to be very key,” Glover said. “It goes a long ways, because if you’re not prepared, you’re not ready. That’s something I’ve had to learn the past couple years. It’s easy to get minor league guys out, not being prepared. I’m not saying they’re not good enough, but they don’t have video, they don’t have scouting reports, they don’t have all the preparation. Up here, they have all of it, so you have to prepare as much as they are.”
Hardly sounds like the brash kid that announced his presence with authority two springs ago, and was more mad than upset when then-manager Dusty Baker went with Blake Treinen as his closer out of camp last year.
“Confidence is always going to be there,” Glove said. “More than anything, it’s being comfortable. When I’m comfortable, I know I’m at my best. I know there’s some things I still gotta work out. And I’m still stuck in April when all of these guys are in August.”
He may be stuck in April, but he’s a closer in August. That might only last until Doolittle returns from the DL, but Glover wants to seize every opportunity he’s given. Not so long ago, he was the proverbial bull in a china shop, unable sometimes to get out of his own way. Now he just wants to be one of the guys and contribute.
When he notched his first save of the season Thursday night in St. Louis, there was plenty of emotion. But Glover had earned the chance to show it.
“It means a lot,” he said. “It just means a lot to be back with the guys, more than anything. I mean, it’s one of them things where it was a little hot, a little muggy, a little tough situation, a good lineup. I was happy to come away with a successful outing.”
Since he’s just rounding into form, Glover could be a key component in the Nationals bullpen in the season’s stretch run. As other relievers wilt under the rigors of a long season, Glover’s right arm won’t have as many miles on it, and he should be a bit fresher than his mates.
“I don’t know about fresh, but more about midseason form,” he said. “Just because I just got back up here doesn’t mean I’m fresh, per se. I’m coming off an injury. It’s different than when you come into spring training. When you’re on the DL, you’re not preparing; you’re trying to get healthy to prepare. So you’re a step below, trying to play catch-up.”